The Real Reason Shailene Woodley Took A Break From Acting

From her early days as Kaitlin Cooper on The O.C. to her recent role as Jane Chapman on Big Little Lies, Shailene Woodley has become one of Hollywood's most sought-after young talents. However, as the actress told the New York Times in April 2020, success hasn't always been easy. "I haven't spoken much about this yet publicly, and I will one day, but I was very, very sick in my early 20s," Woodley revealed. "While I was doing the Divergent movies and working hard, I also was struggling with a deeply personal, very scary physical situation."

Although Woodley did not expand upon the details of her health scare, she did note that the experience caused her to turn down roles after her turn as Beatrice Prior from 2014 to 2016. "Because of that, I said no to a lot of opportunities because I needed to get better, and those jobs ended up going to peers of mine who I love," she added. "They went on to a lot of success, but there was a mix of people saying, 'You shouldn't have let that go!' or 'You shouldn't have been sick!'"

Woodley claimed she had "no choice but to just surrender and let go of my career, and it brought out this negative voice in my mind that kept spinning for years and years afterward." That being said, she emerged from that period with a greater sense of gratitude.

Shailene Woodley feels 'grounded and rooted' after her health scare

In the midst of her health scare, Shailene Woodley couldn't escape her thoughts, asking herself, "Am I going to survive what I'm going through right now and ever be healthy, or even have the opportunity to work on projects I'm passionate about again because of the situation I'm in?" she revealed to the New York Times. While Woodley "had a strong idea of my identity and the meaning of my life" as a teen, an abusive relationship and commercial success eventually wore at her strength.

Woodley explained that, while she thought of acting as a hobby in her teens, she "never wanted the idea of making it into a career to take away my passion for it." In her 20s, however, "fear and anxiety and competition were definitely at the forefront of my mind and my ego in a way they weren't when I was younger." But, after her hiatus from Hollywood, Woodley is confident that she's "on the other side of it."

"A lot of the last few years has been about focusing on mental health for me, and it's a slow process," she said. "But because of that work, I feel very grounded and rooted in who I am and very clear about everything in my life, whether it's my career or my relationships or my own internal worth."

She added, "I feel very grateful to have walked that line of fire, because now I know what I don't want to ever go back to."

Shailene Woodley embraced therapy to regain her confidence and self-worth

While it's not uncommon for celebrities to open up about their mental health struggles, Shailene Woodley revealed that she sought therapy to overcome her issues with confidence. When InStyle asked the Big Little Lies star what she was least confident about in May 2019, Woodley said, "so many things are changing for me at the moment." And it was all thanks to her therapist.

"I recently started therapy, and it has dramatically altered my life," Woodley admitted. "A few months ago I was the least confident in my self-worth. I don't beat myself up over it anymore, but I still feel like I don't fully trust myself to say no to certain things, to trust my discernment. But I will be, very soon."

But that doesn't mean she lacks confidence completely. "I'm really confident I can get s**t done. Making the impossible possible," Woodley explained. "Since I was 18, people told me it would be impossible to live wherever I wanted. Impossible to live a certain lifestyle. Impossible to be in another feature film. Impossible to be political F**k that. F**k the impossible. My dad always used to say, 'If we hadn't invented the wheel, how much of our brains would we be accessing?' I can't help but ruminate on that." 

And with each dramatic role, Woodley continues to reinvent the wheel in her cutthroat industry.

Shailene Woodley almost turned down her role in 'Big Little Lies'

Before returning to television as part of the all-star Big Little Lies cast, Shailene Woodley admitted she'd reached an impasse. In fact, the industry veteran almost turned down the role as she pondered leaving the business entirely. 

"There was a point in my life, right before Big Little Lies, where I had hit a wall with acting," Woodley told the Porter Edit in June 2018. "I felt it was time to do something different. I called my agents and said, 'Please don't send me any more scripts; I need to explore other avenues.' They respected me and didn't send me anything for almost a year until Big Little Lies."

However, in the midst of her disillusionment, Woodley refused to even read the script before she turned it down. "I didn't know what it was or who was involved, I just said, 'Thanks, I'm still not interested.'" Regardless, her agents kept pushing — and it's a good thing they did. "I read it, fell in love with it, and Laura Dern, who I had worked with on The Fault in Our Stars, called me and that was really the push."

As Woodley explained, she needed to "have some human experiences outside of this industry and fall in love with acting again, and Big Little Lies did that for me." We're thrilled to hear that Woodley recaptured that magic she so generously shares with viewers on-screen!